Composed by
Jack Wall

 

Published by
Sumthing Else Music Works (2005)

 

Tracklistings
1) The Way of the Open Palm
2) Jade Empire Main Theme
3) Hills and Fields / Dance of the Babbling Brook / Fallow Ground
4) Fist / Test Your Mettle
5) Dawn Star Theme
6) Tea House
7) Fury, Hammer and Tongs
8) Anthem of the Tyrant
9) Buried Secrets / Whispers
10) Mischief in the Marsh
11) Empire at War
12) Death's Hand Suite
13) Night Out
14) Fires of Chaos
15) House of the Spirits / The Dark Land
16) Metropolis I and II
17) Ill Winds
18) Ballad of the Drunken Revelers
19) Call to Victory
20) Into the Fray
21) Waterdragon
22) Last Rites / Internment
23) Silk Fox Theme
24) Wine and Women
25) Lost in the Wilds / The Hunt
26) Sky Theme
27) Tribute
28) Rending of Flesh
29) Soaring / Stormclouds
30) Torment / The Way of the Closed Fist
31) Sanctuary

 

Extras
- Game website
- Composer website

 

Availability
- Amazon.com
- Sumthing Else

 

Review by
Oliver Ittensohn

Jade Empire

It is safe to say that Bioware is the leading developer of role-playing games these days. With the enormous success of Baldur’s Gate I and II, Neverwinter Nights and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Repbulic they have pioneered a new kind of gameplay that focuses on open-ended storytelling, tactical combat and cinematic presentation. It is all the more surprising that Jade Empire is actually the first Bioware game to feature an original setting. But even while it is based on the exotic world of mythical China, all the classic core gameplay elements return in this installment as well. Unfortunately, the game’s focus on action and its rather shallow character development system got the game only average reviews. Nevertheless, Jade Empire is still being played around the world and an adaptation for the PC has just been announced.

The game’s mythical background and story demanded a score that was suitably ethnic and mysterious. The job to achieve this fell to composer Jack Wall who knew his way around ethnic instrumentation having made extensive use of it in his scores for the Myst adventure game series. For Jade Empire, Wall would even take the ethnic instrumentation further. Alongside traditional synthesized orchestra, Wall would record all other instruments live among them such foreign instruments as Hira Odaiko (big drum), Shimi Odaiko (small drums), the Guzheng (zither-type instrument) or an array of bamboo flutes. Of course ‘traditional’ taiko drums were on board as well.

All this makes up for an interesting, ethnic score, for Wall clearly knows how to write for these kinds of instruments. Many of the background pieces sound very much like traditional Chinese folk songs and are thus quite suitable to the game’s world. Indeed, Wall often abandons traditional strings and brass use of the Western orchestra to focus fully on the variety of the sounds all the ethnic instruments have to offer. “The Tea House” or “Ballad of the Drunken Revelers” are both examples of the refined ethnic writing. In addition, Wall tries to weave these instruments into menacing ambient pieces and widens the instruments’ traditional use: “Mischief in the Marsh” or “Lost in the Wilds / The Hunt” successfully combine menacing writing and ethnic orchestrations.

The score also offers a couple of themes: the most memorable of them being its main theme presented with full orchestra in “Jade Empire Main Theme”. It is a humable melody and turns up a few times in the score though most notably in “Tribute”. There’s a second, more emotional motif that is first introduced in “The Way of the Open Palm” and is then hinted at in the final battle piece called “Torment / The Way of the Closed Fist”. Actually, the action pieces on the album are worth mentioning as well for they try to incorporate the ethnic sounds into battle arrangements. It is here that the drums are put to full use and traditional Western orchestra, above all brass, gets to complement them.

Unfortunately, the traditional orchestra is substituted by synthesized samples and poor ones at that. Especially the brass sounds weak and unaccomplished. It is especially the contrast between the samples and the live recorded ethnic instrumentation that is most disappointing. A real orchestra, no matter how small, would’ve done wonders.

More importantly, be warned that the score relies heavily on ethnic instrumentation and it might get tiresome over the course of the rather long album if you’re not particularly interested in Chinese music. The score is definitely not an epic adventure score in the traditional sense with massive Western orchestra and ethnic elements but focuses clearly and audible on the latter. If you’re interested in some of the most sophisticated and compelling ethnic writing in game music to this day, you should definitely give Jade Empire a try. You will not regret it.